Life is full of potential things to worry about. We can worry about ourselves, others, the world around us, things in the past, the present or the future. Whether it’s bigger things such as, ‘Will I have enough food to put on the table?’ ‘Will I get the job I need to be financially secure? Worries about health: our own or others’. Worries about being safe or about others being safe. Or smaller things such as, ‘Will I be late to meet a friend, to get to the school for pick up or to a meeting?’ Or that you forgot to do something you were meant to do. Or that you’ve let someone down.
Being worried or feeling anxious is a normal part of life and something most of us have experienced at some point in our lives. But, when the worrying doesn’t go away and we feel we’re incessantly worrying about something, it can really start to take over our lives. This can lead to a very negative mindset and potentially other health problems, as worrying also causes a lot of stress and tension in the body, heart and mind.
Why do we worry so much?
We may believe that if we focus on the problem or issue, we’ll find a way to resolve it. However, worrying is generally the problem not the solution. It keeps us awake at night, makes us feel anxious and out of control and disconnects us from our deep selves and each other.
Don’t worry, though! There are many effective things we can do, ways we can practise and techniques we can try to reduce and eliminate worrying and take the mind out of its habitual worrying loop.
The truth of suffering
In the ancient practice way of Buddhism, Buddha stated the following, known as the 4 noble truths:
- Life has inevitable suffering.
- There is a cause to our suffering.
- There is an end to our suffering.
- The end of suffering is through the path that frees us from suffering.
Knowing we will all suffer at some point in our lives means it’s vital that we find ways, practices and techniques that help us with number 4, the path that frees us from suffering.
When major events happen in our lives or circumstances beyond our control cause the big worries (such as war in another country), our worrying may seem very difficult to control. However, it’s always our relationship to whatever’s going on that has the biggest impact on us, and to what extent and how much we worry. Some of the smaller issues in our lives, that cause us to worry, may be easier to manage if we practise being calm and reducing anxiety.
10 ways to stop worrying
1. Start your day with the practice of gratitude
Research shows the practice of gratitude is a powerful way to reduce anxiety and worrying(1). Each morning think/feel 3 things you’re grateful for. You can internally say this to yourself, write this down or share with another. Even if you’re just ‘thinking it’ to begin with, keep trying to imagine this feeling of gratitude. Really take it into your heart and amplify this happy feeling.
2. Share your worries with a trusted friend or family member
It can be easy for our worries to go round and round in our own heads, seemingly taking us deeper in to the problems. Talking with a trusted friend or family member can really help get things into perspective. Do choose a person that will actually listen to you, rather than someone who doesn’t really listen and instantly tries to tell you what you ‘should’ do!
3. Practise focused deep breathing
The practice of focused deep breathing really helps to calm the mind and body and bring us into the present. When we’re in the present, in that moment everything can be calmer and more settled, the mind stops racing off and catastrophising and it’s more likely that we can bring a more balanced awareness to the problems we may have.
4. Allow yourself worry time
Choose a point in the day when you have undisturbed time and space and allow your mind to wander through its concerns and worries. You may need to set a timer and at the end also choose something to ‘reset’ yourself, like 5 deep breaths, gentle or vigorous movements, changing the room you’re in, reading a book or doing an active task, to help you move on.
5. Turn the mind to another task
The mind really is a ‘monkey’ jumping about everywhere or getting fixated and stuck on one thing. If we practise techniques that help to calm the mind it can really reduce our worrying.
6. Journal your thoughts and feelings
Spend some time writing down your thoughts and feelings so they’re out of your head.
7. Challenge your thoughts
Challenge your worrying thoughts by asking yourself these questions:
- Is it true?
- What evidence do I have that this will happen?
- If it does happen, what will I do/say/who will I go to for help?
- Are there any actions I can do now that will help me feel calmer/more positive?
- Is there another way I can look at this?
8. Consider which problems are solvable and which are not
“Everything may not be solvable but it is explorable.” – Robert Stephenson (Animas Coaching CEO)
Think of a circle with arrows extending out from it in all directions. Use this model to place the main problem you have in the centre and then consider all the possible ways that could help and support you with this problem or issue.
9. Try exercising
Moving the body can really be helpful if you’re worrying. Getting energy flowing via movement is a great way to focus the mind. Try going for a walk, yoga, Tai Chi, gym, swimming, dancing, golf or whatever you’re able to do. By focusing on the movements with your breathing this also helps to release tension from your body.
10. Distract the mind
Choose to engage in an activity that distracts and focuses the mind. This could be a craft you enjoy where you’re really absorbed in the process or something like painting, gardening, cleaning, reading, listening to music or listening to the birds. Anything you enjoy that helps you focus completely on the task or that you feel immersed or absorbed in.
We can waste so much time and energy worrying about things that we forget to live our precious lives. Today – now – choose a practice or technique that you’ll commit to next time you notice you’re worrying and see if you can change your experience for the better!
- Wood, A.M., Maltby, J., Gillet, R., Linley, P.A., & Joseph, S. (2008). The role of gratitude in the development of social support, stress, and depression: Two longitudinal studies. Journal of Research in Personality, 42, 854-871.